Ferry and Ron van der Leek, E.F.P. International:

"We're looking for diversification, but always in niche markets"

E.F.P. International has recently moved to new facilities at ABC Westland. Although the new building is just a few metres away from the old one, the available space is now a lot greater. "We had outgrown our old premises and had to resort to plenty of renting, which was not an ideal situation. We can again look forward to working at our own facilities for years to come," stated director Ron van der Leek. The property is not completely new, as the exporter was already established in the current building eight years ago.
Market diversification
Ron has already been at the helm of E.F.P. International for twenty years. Traditionally, the company has been highly focused on the export of fruit and vegetables to destinations like the Middle East, the UK and Ireland. For several years, the company has specifically been looking for more market diversification. "We used to rely entirely on two destinations, which makes you vulnerable if a volcano is about to erupt in Iceland or an EHEC crisis starts, as that can lead to a halt in the demand from those markets," explains the director.

Ferry and Ron van der Leek

The annual growth recorded by E.F.P. serves as evidence to the fact that this strategy is paying off. The company currently employs 24 people at its headquarters in Poeldijk and its branches in Musselkanaal, Groningen (for the German and Scandinavian markets) and in the French city of Perpignan, from where many Spanish products are exported to the Middle East. "Because of this, we are also better able to serve the local French market," affirm Ron's son, Ferry van der Leek.

Strategic choice
The exporter made the strategic choice of no longer exporting to the UK wholesale market. "We are looking to stand out in niche markets. More than half of our business relies on air freight, with a predominance of mixed pallets. We are not box shippers and aim actually not to target the markets on which everyone is already focusing," says Ferry. "So we don't supply any European supermarkets. In the Middle East, we have many supermarket customers, but those won't purchase trucks full of peppers or tomatoes."

The company has been active in the Middle East for years. "We were among the first exporters to ship to the Middle East. For years, we were one of only four active Dutch exporters there, but competition has increased dramatically in recent years. Due to the Russian boycott, exporters have also been forced to look for new markets. Luckily, we are able to stand out because we are familiar with the market and we have maintained good relationships there for years," affirms Ron, who travels at least five times a year to visit its customers in the Middle East.

Local productions
Dutch tomatoes, peppers and lettuce are well-known by consumers in the Middle East, but local productions in the area have also been growing sharply. "There is plenty of sunshine and many greenhouse builders from the Netherlands are developing large projects in the Middle East. While a few years ago, tomatoes were mainly grown in the open ground, high-tech greenhouses have been gaining a dominant position. But I am convinced that we will continue to add value, especially thanks to the wide range that we can provide. We also benefit from the growing tourism in the Middle East. Many of the people who go to Asia on holiday choose to spend a couple of days in Dubai."

E.F.P. itself doesn't expect to play a role in the development of local productions. "Each must focus on its specialty, and for us it offers no advantages to play a role in the production process. We source our products directly from growers, but also from cooperatives and trade houses. Since we deliver the whole range, we never take the entire production from a grower," explains Ferry. "We also have foreign suppliers with a very strong focus on a single product. For those, many customers are usually too small."

Exporting to a destination like China is currently not in our plans. "At the moment, only pears and some peppers could be shipped there. For us, it is interesting to be able to deliver all products. We have customers in Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand," states Ferry. The company keeps a close eye on any developments in international trade policies. "When a country like Iran opens its borders, there is immediately a market with 80 million inhabitants there. But the market remains unpredictable and every year is different."

Father and son look to the future of the company with confidence. "You have to work really hard in our industry to earn a profit and the margins are ridiculously small, especially given the risks that you have to take. But in all markets where we operate, we are achieving a healthy growth. We have an experienced team, and the fact that we are a family business is also an advantage for E.F.P. You know what to expect from everyone, and in the markets in which we operate, that is also appreciated, because relationships play an incredibly important role."

For more information:
Ron / Ferry van der Leek
E.F.P. International
ABC Westland 451
2685 DE Poeldijk
The Netherlands
Tel: 0174-540840

Photos: Jan-Willem de Jongste

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